Lindsay Whitley-35 Under 35

35 Under 35 Class of 2018-19
Lindsay is one of 35 professionals, age 35 and under, who make up of the Class of 2018-19. These 35 individuals are emerging leaders who are making a difference in school public relations.

Lindsay Whitley
Cumberland County Schools
Fayetteville, N.C.

What does leadership mean to you? 
Leadership is the art of rallying a group of individuals to achieve a common purpose. It involves embracing the diverse skills and talents of team members and bringing everyone together to work toward a shared vision of success. Most importantly, leaders serve the needs of others and help build the capacity of their team members to contribute to the organization. 

What was the most fulfilling professional moment you have experienced? 
The most fulfilling professional moment I have experienced was last school year when I had an opportunity to present at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s National Family and Community Engagement Conference. I was invited to present at the conference based on the work we had done in our school district around family and community engagement. Out of the blue, I received an email inviting me to submit a proposal to present at the conference. My conference presentation was well received by audience members and many of them followed up with me after the presentation to learn more about our family and community engagement efforts. My laser-like focus has always been on making a difference in the lives of others, but it was refreshing to learn that professionals from all over the country were tuned in to the impact we were making in our school district.

What are the most challenging and/or rewarding part about working in school PR? 
I thoroughly enjoy working in school PR, but it is certainly not for the faint of heart. Being successful in this role requires one to successfully navigate a myriad of challenges and crises on a daily basis — there is never a dull moment. There is always something going on in a school district that requires the attention of a school communications professional. However, I love working behind the scenes to support principals when they are dealing with challenging situations and leading the effort to tell our school district’s amazing story. The most rewarding part of about working in school PR is being able to highlight the amazing students, educators, parents and community partners who make our school district great.

What’s your favorite work app and personal app?
My favorite work app is Facebook. Although it has been around for a while, it continues to allow school districts to reach multiple generations with ease. Sometimes stakeholders will see something on Facebook before they go to the district’s official website. Facebook has become one of our go-to communication tools, and it allows our school district to creatively share timely news and information with our community at-large.
My favorite personal app is Instagram. I love seeing family and friends express themselves using photos. After a long day at the office, exploring Instagram allows me to unwind and connect with my loved ones.

What book has inspired you professionally? 
Start with Why, by Simon Sinek, has become one of my all-time favorite books. In the field of education, it is important that we never forget our “why” – we’re here to help students succeed in the classroom and in life. Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of school politics, and the long hours that accompany this work can weigh heavily on even the most optimistic person. However, keeping our “why” at the forefront of everything that we do can help us remain focused on our core mission and motivate others to join our cause. 
How has NSPRA and your state chapter guided you along the way? 
Both NSPRA and NCSPRA have connected me to a wealth of knowledge, people and resources to help me succeed as a school public relations professional. At the very beginning of my journey in this field, I heeded the advice of my then-superintendent and joined NSPRA and NCSPRA – and I’m glad I did. Whether it involves navigating through a crisis or bouncing an idea off of another colleague, these professional networks allow school PR professionals to feel connected and supported. Not to mention the conferences – the professional development is second to none.

What is a recent communications/media campaign you enjoyed – either one of your own or one you saw nationally?
In an effort to help more than 20,000 elementary students and their families have the tools they needed to keep reading and succeeding over the summer break, our school district launched a summer literacy campaign called “Break with a Book.” Every student was able to select six books to take home and read over the summer break. In addition to helping students build their home libraries, we also built in a family engagement component. We hosted multiple check-in events over the summer break to connect with students during the summer months, and families were able to attend fun educational events. In addition to the face-to-face components of the campaign, our school district leveraged social media channels to help share summer literacy tips with families. Our innovative summer literacy campaign was featured in several national publications and certainly helped students avoid the summer slide.

What emerging trends in school public relations get you excited? 
I enjoy seeing school districts tell their stories well and utilize technology to increase two-way communication channels with students, employees, parents and community partners. Understanding that parents and community partners cannot always engage in face-to-face dialogues with schools, it is important that we continue to seek out-of-the-box ways to connect with all stakeholders. I look forward to seeing additional tools emerge that will help school districts communicate with parents and community partners.